Sunday, November 28, 2010

Guest post: A little checking may save you thousands of dollars

Well, the City Council went ahead and adopted the Stretch Code. This will initially have little impact on the average building owner until you attempt to do an improvement project that will require a building permit. Then it will cost you many additional dollars compared to a standard building code to attain the new green standards. Fortunately for most of us, we’re an historic city and many thousands of our homes are designated historic and are exempt from this punitive measure.

Unless of course, you don’t know if your home is historic or not.

Even then, if your home is inside the Newburyport Historic District, it is not necessarily an historic building! The information as to which structures are included is tucked away in the National Register’s Inventory Listing. A listing that is not posted on the City’s website. To find out often requires journeying down to the Library’s archives and painfully digging about. Don’t ask for the copy in the Planning Office, it’s missing pages out of it!

But It is now, in complete form, digitally available at

Your home is historic and exempt if it contributes to the National Register of Historic Places. Therefore a designation in the Inventory of a “C” for contributing or “MC” minor contributing puts you in the exempt status.

But let’s say you do due diligence, check out the online listing and you find the code ‘INT’ next to your home. This designation means that your structure is not a contributing building toward the National Register. Yet, you may still be exempt.

There is a sliding scale on the Inventory. It is now 2010 and according to the preface of the listing, the cutoff date for the report in 1984 was 1930. It says, “Finally, those structures built after 1930 have been designated as intrusions [INT]; included in this last category are a number of buildings which may be re-considered as contributing structures once they achieve the age of fifty years.”

Therefore, any buildings that have this designation and are between 1930 to 1960 as the date of construction, need to have their owners appear before the Historical Commission for reconsideration and change of status.

I assure you, there are many City Hall employees who are not aware of the nuances involved in historic house categorizing. If you are still unsure of your building’s history after checking the listing, appeal to the Historical Commission.

As for the building inspector, he has indicated that he will explore other requests for exemptions in accordance with the Massachusetts State 780 CMR 7th edition, Chapter 93 for certain homes older than five years old.

Remember though, the time-honored warning, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” This time, willful ignorance of your historic building’s status may still cost you thousands.

Even at the presently enacted building code, historic homes are often exempt from some restrictions.

So take my word, do some research and be prepared before seeing the building inspector.

Jerry A. Mullins
Newburyport, MA

From Gillian: Sorry, Jerry, about how long it took me to post this.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving, el Caribe Sur, and Paradise Lost - Your Sporadic Dose from Mr. Cook

After several days of pretty steady rain, Thanksgiving morning arrived here on the Caribbean with brilliant blue skies and a soft on shore breeze.

A symphony, some call it a cacophony, of bellowing howler monkeys, chortling toucans, crowing roosters, and, of course, the neighborhood barking dogs, rousted me from a sound sleep minutes after the sun came up.

With my dogs in tow, including Harry S. Truman, my new miniature Schnauzer pup whose dad is the Costa Rican grand champion, I headed out for my early morning constitutional on the beach from Playa Cocles to Punta Uva.

Almost every step of the way, I kept thinking how grateful and blessed I am to have had the opportunity to call this little piece of paradise home for, when I add all the months up in total, seven of the last eleven years.

The walk was an appropriate way to start what Americans have long viewed as a day to reflect on the bounties the United States has bestowed on so many of its citizens, even if it has yet to live up to the ideal of "...liberty and justice for all".

But it was much more than that. The walk was also an opportunity to reflect on the challenges all of us face, regardless of our race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, religion, or sexual orientation, as we move into an era of diminishing natural resources, climate change, global warming, nuclear proliferation, and a growing income gap between those with and those without that threatens the social and political stability of virtually every country on the planet, including the United States.

At one point, as the dogs and I rested at our favorite lagoon in Playa Chiquita, I found myself wondering if the Rubicon might not already have been crossed, if the tipping point has not been tipped or, to quote NY Times columnist Tom Friedman from his book "Hot, Flat, and Crowded", we have not run out of time to "manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable" in relation to the many serious issues and challenges facing us as a species today.

The signs that we have are everywhere, yet very few people seem to be paying much attention, or even to genuinely care.

I am always struck that so many people, especially those who profess loyalty to all things "green", just don't seem to get all that is really at stake.

A pet peeve of mine is the growing number of faux green ex-pats moving here who claim to be protectors of the environment and lovers of nature, while driving gas guzzling, emissions spewing Status Utility Vehicles and clear cutting everything in sight to build US style McMansions for retiring, faux green, American baby boomers- all with "green" technology of course.

I mean, come on. Can we talk disconnect from reality here or what, folks?

About ten days before Thanksgiving, a walk to the beach in Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva was an exercise in absolute misery because swarms of mosquitoes were everywhere.

In eleven years, I'd not experienced anything like it.

But it was a friend, a retiree from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who pointed out to me that the intense mosquito infestation was no doubt tied to the amount of rapid deforestation going on here in the name of economic and real estate development - all of it "green", of course.

Deforestation results in the destruction of large amounts of bird habitat. Birds are one of the most important predators in terms of keeping insect populations, including mosquitos, in check.

Destruction of bird habit by clear cutting means fewer birds to eat the bugs, including mosquitos, so clear cutting means more bugs to bite us and spread disease, with mosquitoes topping the list.

But that's just one piece of an important jig saw puzzle too few people are paying genuine attention to, not just here on el Caribe Sur, but all over the world.

The sad irony for me is that some of the worst offenders of this failure to pay attention are the very people who claim to care so much about their Mother Earth, so long as that caring doesn't stand in the way of them making money, even if it is at Mother Earth's expense.

But, with all that, as the dogs and I continued on our way toward Punta Uva, I remained deeply grateful for having had the opportunity to come to know this magical place when I did because, as magical as it still is in many ways, not unlike what Plum Island was when I was a kid, that magic is in grave danger of being lost, not just for a little while, but forever - kind of like Plum Island.

Michael Cook
Puerto Viejo/Playa Cocles
& Gloucester, MA, USA

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Beach Bummer"

It's comforting to know that even the big ole news outlets mess up ... the video in this report on Channel 7 is of the beach nourishment on the Newbury beach, not the Newburyport beach ... and I think it was $75,000, but that was with the city's match ...

Loved the title "Beach Bummer," though. Someone's been watching "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

Read more here, from the Daily News.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Paid parking (meeting) on Nov. 4

There's a meeting of the City Council (a meeting of the whole) to talk paid parking and it's this Thursday at 7:30 p.m., in City Council Chambers.

The parking consultant will be there to answer questions.

Save me from Hawaii!

I'm swiping a concept started on Television Without Pity, a site I used to read regularly. Back then, the recaps of the TV shows were highly amusing ....


We have been watching Hawaii Five-O, the remake.

And so I say, save me from Hawaii.

In every episode so far, something fairly anxiety-inducing has happened to some hapless tourist, or more frequently, a family of tourists, mostly parents and young boy.

What's up with that?

And how did the crazy dude take all the tourists on a tour of the aircraft carrier hostage without taking the tour guide as well?

These and other questions are answered much more humorously than I could ever do it, right here.

Oh, and yeah, Boomer (aka Grace Park) hopefully will get a clue sometime soon.

She's a Cylon, you know ...